Spiritual Formation

Ministry is Messy

oxenWithout oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. – Proverbs 14:4, NLT

Ministry is messy! I’ll never forget where I was when I heard this ministry axiom for the first time. I was a brand new intern at Lakeside Church, attending a leaders event at the Lake Natoma Inn in Folsom, when our Senior Pastor Brad Franklin shared these wise words from the wisest man in the world, King Soloman. Even though I was new to the staff of Lakeside Church, I wasn’t new to ministry and I remember wanting to shout, “Amen!”.

You see, there is often a collision that happens in ministry between those that want everything neat, orderly and predictable and the oxen who make messes. In the church world, these collisions usually occur between administrators and leaders, but these collisions can also be the result of different personalities as well. However, as the proverb implies, much is accomplished by the strength of the ox. And when you have oxen in the stable, it’s not as clean as you want it to be. That’s because, ministry–real person-to-person, life-to-life, broken vessel-to-broken vessel ministry–is messy!

In my years in ministry, I have worked with a lot of oxen. Truth be told, I prefer working with oxen. They accomplish things. Even back in in my days as the Executive Pastor at Lakeside Church, I often felt as if I was the “pooper scooper dude” at the zoo! But, like the optimistic kid in a room full of manure, I knew that that there had to be a horse (or in this case an oxen) in the room! In fact, the more productive the leader, the messier things sometimes got. These are God’s words and should remind us to give the oxen the benefit of the doubt when much is being accomplished. The mess is usually not intentional, it’s usually a by product of their strength.

In looking at the Scriptures, it was the messy people who Jesus preferred to work with. He loved the unlovely. He touched the untouchables. He blessed the broken. But remember, it was the religious people that wanted things orderly, that Jesus had issue with.

Jesus certainly knew that ministry could get messy. He performed amazing miracles, like healing the sick, and got criticized for it by the religious leaders. But what was Jesus’ response? He had compassion. He took abuse and mockery from the Roman soldiers and willingly let himself be nailed to the cross. All because he understood his purpose and knew that ministry was messy, but also so worth it.

I guess the question for us all is…will  we welcome and serve the ones whom God loves, even when the work is messy? Even when it means our plans might not go as planned? Or something didn’t happen exactly as we had hoped? May we never forget that we, too, stumbled into his courts naked and blind, wretched and poor. And may we never forget that God takes the messes of our lives each day and makes something beautiful.

Palm Sunday Reflection

palm-sunday-title-slide053I’m not sure how the word spread, but as Jesus was preparing to enter Jerusalem, the people of Israel gathered and awaited his arrival. Now up to this point, the Jews knew of the miracles that Jesus had done, and that he was a remarkable teacher, but this great gathering wasn’t about celebrating what Jesus had done, rather it was a greeting of hopeful expectation of what Jesus was about to do! You see, all along Jesus had been teaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and for some reason the Jews believed that the long awaited Messiah, the future king of Israel was about to present himself and liberate the people from the oppression of their Roman rulers.

So the city was wild with excitement and I imagine that as they waited the people imagined what this moment might look like. Perhaps they pictured a military King who would ride into town on a stallion prepared for battle. Or they imagined a mighty King who would bring soldiers with him, perhaps even some chariots. Or they thought about a powerful king who would finally take his rightful thrown as the King of the Jews.

But as soon as Jesus came into plain view, there was no stallion for this Messiah, just a donkey on loan. There was no army for this Messiah, just a small band of common fisherman. And this Messiah was no defeater of Romans; he was just a Galilean carpenter.

Now I imagine that if we were to find ourselves in the crowd today – yelling and cheering and waving our palm branches as Jesus enters into Jerusalem, that we like the Jews would probably be caught up in the emotion of the moment, so excited that the moment of liberation had finally come! And yet, as Jesus turns the corner, something within us balks as Jesus approaches on a donkey, and our grasp around our cloaks begins to tighten, and we ask, “Is this really the Messiah?”

And just like the Jewish people in this story had to do, we have to lay down our cloaks before Jesus, setting aside our assumptions, our hopes, our plans AND worship Jesus for who He is, not what we want Him to be. You see the Jews wanted a reigning king and instead welcomed a suffering servant! And while Jesus wasn’t going to bring the political liberation they were hoping for, I imagine that there were some who got a glimpse of Messiah for who is truly is and what he longs to do in our lives…bring us true spiritual liberation!

So I think the questions for us this day is: What kind of king do you prefer to follow? What’s stopping you from laying down our cloaks before Jesus? Why are you holding on so tight? And would it really be so bad if we let go? Would it really be so bad if we trusted God more than we trusted ourselves? I think if we’re able to do that – we’ll be one step closer to experiencing the liberation that Jesus came to bring.

Heaven is For Real Movie Review

MV5BNjc3MzYzMTUzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYzNzI2MDE@._V1_SX214_I just returned from having the opportunity to see an advance screening of the movie, Heaven is for Real, which releases nationally on Wednesday, April 16. In case you missed the book’s national prominence, Heaven is for Real, is the true story of a four-year old boy named Colton, who experiences heaven during an emergency surgery. After his near death experience, Colton talks about looking down to see the doctor operating on him and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family doesn’t know what to believe about Colton’s experience, so they doubt, but soon the evidence is clear.

Having not read the book, I didn’t know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I felt that the film delivered an entertaining, moving and inspirational perspective on the topic of heaven. In fact, I would say it was probably one of the most professionally done “faith-based” movies I have ever seen. The cast is solid, the acting stellar, and Connor Corum, the 4-year-old boy who plays Colton, is simply adorable. In addition, Greg Kinnear turns in a very emotional performance as Todd Burpo, the father/pastor who is faced with whether or not to believe his son’s account of “Heaven.”

While I appreciated the authentic portrayal of a pastor who struggled with doubts, how to pay the bills, and his own sense of pride, I did feel that the producers muddled the message about heaven, most likely to make it easier for the non-Christian community to swallow. However I will say this, there was no compromising of the message that heaven is the place where Jesus resides!

Although I did have some issues with the film, I believe that the film will serve as a great conversation starter to get people talking about God, heaven and the afterlife. And that’s what director Randall Wallace and the producers likely had in mind. I also believe that the movie can prove to be very healing and hopeful for those who’ve experienced loss and need to be reminded of the fact that heaven IS for real! Therefore, I would encourage you to go and see it.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

fastI joined Facebook in 2008. I don’t think at the time, I really understood the implications of this platform. It was new. It was fresh. Everyone was doing it. I joined the craze.

I wanted to buy stock in Facebook when it went public in 2012. I’m glad I didn’t.

But in 2014, I have decided it’s time to leave Facebook! Well at least for a while. You see, I’m giving it up for Lent.

Lent is the 40 days before Easter in which Christians pray, fast, contemplate and engage in acts of spiritual self-discipline. According to my friend, David Timms, professor at William Jessup University, “Lent provides a prayerful rhythm for our lives. It invites us to fast from something that is significant to us, and a regular part of our lives. And our fast is a trigger for prayer. Every time we think of (or desire) what we’re fasting from, we are to pray instead. Not necessarily lengthy prayers, but breath prayers. In short order we find ourselves praying more often throughout the day and living with a heightened sense of God’s presence.”

So for the next 40 days, I am going to be fasting from Facebook! But during this time, I’m really going to pray about leaving Facebook all together. Or at the least, create new rhythms in my life, whereby I am less attached to it.

Facebook was a significant way to connect with friends and family when we lived in Southern California. In fact, it helped us bridge the distance in incredible ways. However, over the last couple of years, Facebook has become a huge distraction and terrible time waster for me. So with that, I am going to test the waters and see how life is different without it. And here’s what I imagine is going to happen…

I will have more time!

I will have more joy!

I will have a deeper connection with God!

I will be more connected to friends!

I will be more present with my family!

I will be more content!

So if you want to catch up with Bryan, I suggest you visit my blog. I’m looking forward to the journey. Perhaps you might even consider joining me.

The Easy Yoke

My-yokeCome to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30, NIV

Lately, I have been contemplating these words of Jesus! What a wonderful invitation He gives to those who were burdened by the religious practices of His day! It’s an invitation to rest, to cease striving, to trust in Him. To the weary and burdened, Jesus states that the easy yoke begins with Him. It begins with a right understanding of spirituality. For as Dallas Willard states, “Spirituality wrongly understood is a major source of human misery and rebellion towards God.”

In Jesus’ day if we measured spiritual maturity based on spiritual activity, then the Pharisees would have won every time. Yet, it was the Pharisees boundary markers that were tiresome, for the Pharisees had a burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping.

So what does it mean to go through life and not be burdened? To fully experience what Jesus talks about in this verse. Well here are a few thoughts…

  1. The easy yoke involves a life of training, not trying! Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 when he states, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Training is simply the means by which I live by grace. Wesley spoke of “means of grace.” If we are going to be experience the easy yoke, we need to arrange our lives around the person of Jesus, reflecting His character and commitments. We enter into training to win an imperishable wreath. Luke 6:40 says, “no disciple is above the master, but every disciple, when fully trained, will be like his master.” Train yourself into godliness. The easy yoke is a life of training (not just trying) to be like Jesus.
  2. The easy yoke begins with joy! One must arrange their day, so that they experience contentment and joy. But what if you have a problem with joylessness? How do we do that? Do you just try harder to be joyful? Does that work? How do you train for joy? One thought…have you ever noticed how many ‘holidays’ there are in the Old Testament? There were countless feasts! All which caused the people to pause, remember and celebrate God’s goodness. These trained people for joy. So go eat great food! Arrange your life to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness in the land of the living. As Dallas Willard puts it, “You must arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your own everyday life with God.”
  3. The easy yoke is finding my worth and identification in who I am and not what I am doing! If this is true, than we don’t have to carry upon ourselves the burden of outcomes! Let’s face it, we are “human beings” not “human doings”. Our worth is based on God’s love and what He says is true of us. It’s not based on what we do. As believers in Christ, we are deeply loved. We are totally forgiven. We are absolutely complete in Christ. Therefore, I don’t have to do anything to make God love me more. He loves me completely, for His love isn’t based on what I do, but whose I am!

To experience the easy yoke, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our life. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Therefore, we must train ourselves to be spiritual, not out of a sense of obligation, but in realizing that this training is the means, and not the end, to truly living the life God intended. 

A Contrast in Leadership

saul-or-davidOur leadership team recently read the book, A Tale of Three Kings. The book retells the biblical story of Saul, David, and Absalom! Persecuted first by a mad king and then by a vengeful son, the book tells how David resolutely trusted God when he was treated unfairly.

In considering the book and these stories, I was reminded how 1 Samuel 14:35 states that: “Saul built an altar to God; the first one he had ever built.” But fast-forward one chapter to I Samuel 15:12 and we see that, “Saul went up to Carmel to build a monument to himself.” Somewhere between those two verses, Saul stopped building altars to God and started building monuments to himself. At some point, it was no longer about God and it became about Saul.

In looking at the lives of David and Saul, it got me thinking about some of lessons we can learn from these two guys as it relates to leadership in the church. Here are some of those key learnings for leaders to remember…

  1. Don’t play the comparison game. First, you’ll always find someone doing a better job than you and you’ll get discouraged. Second, you’ll always find someone that you’re doing a better job than, and you’ll get full of pride. Either way, you’ll be dead in the water.
  2. Remember success isn’t about numbers. Saul got caught up in the numbers game. And David had better stats. Jesus was successful because he poured his life into twelve people! And like Jesus, we need to invest in the few for the sake of the multitudes. Rick Warren puts it this way, “A church should be judged not on its seating capacity, but on its sending capacity.”
  3. Celebrate your failures. As we see in Saul, insecure people are afraid of failing. Secure people laugh at themselves. They celebrate failure because it accentuates what God can do in spite of us!
  4. Don’t panic. Insecure people get nervous. They give up. Secure leaders hang in there no matter what. David waited patiently for the Lord because he was secure in his leadership and in God’s calling on his life.
  5. Don’t get defensive. How you handle criticism will make or break you. I’ve learned over the years in ministry that you need tough skin and a soft heart.
  6. Surround yourself with the right people. Who was Saul’s greatest asset? David. But if you are insecure, your greatest asset will become your greatest threat. And it will short-circuit your ability to surround yourself with a great team. And it will limit your influence.
  7. Keep building altars to God. Remember, it’s not about you! It’s easy to drift like Saul did and build monuments to ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us of this, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” He is the Potter, we are the clay! He is the Vine, we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can do nothing!

A New Tradition…Remembering

P1000083My wife Jennifer recently wrote this article and I thought it was a wonderful read worth repeating on my blog…

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done.  – Psalm 92:4 (NLT)

Well, whether we’re ready or not, 2014 is here! It’s hard to believe that 2013 is over! Time goes by so quickly and the blessings of the year are often so easily forgotten. The arrival of the new year is a great time to start tracking God’s faithfulness and a fun and simple way to capture God’s blessing throughout the year is to create a memory jar. To start the fun, take a large jar (or other container) and place it somewhere your family can easily access. Whenever you have a blessing you want to remember, a prayer that is answered or an event you want to capture, simply jot it down on a small slip of paper and add it to the jar. Encourage every family member to participate and contribute. At the end of 2014, on New Years Eve perhaps, gather the family together and read those slips of paper. Not only will this be a great walk down memory lane, but it will give you the opportunity to focus on God’s faithfulness and unfailing love.

Memory Jars, and memorials in general, are not new concepts. In fact, memorials are God’s idea. Over and over again in Scripture, God instructs his people to remember His goodness, power and provisions. Start a new tradition this year and thrill in the Lord as you remember what He has done.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever. – Joshua 4:21-24 (NLT)

How Do You Manage Your Digital Life?

digital-worldI’ve been trying to achieve something that may be impossible…creating a way to synchronize my digital life and my real life, so that I can meaningfully accomplish things in both areas. Now I consider myself a bit of a techie. And I’ve usually been an early adopter to technology. I opened my Twitter account back in 2007. I joined Facebook in 2008. And I am usually the first in the office to update software. But lately, I’m struggling with how to manage learning curves that come technological advances like an iOS7 update, as well as managing social media and the different ways people communicate.

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but consider this. Today, I had a senior citizen from the church call me on the phone to talk, I had a millennial texting me with questions and information on my cell phone, I had instant messages on Facebook from friends and family, I was inundated with emails, I received two direct tweets from friends and I had a Skype conference call with a church leader.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, because as a former communications major, I love all the various ways and methods to communicate. But as you can see, generationally and professionally we all have different preferences of communication. Notice the inclusion of the demographics associated with the preferred styles of communication above. The professional wants everything documented, so they email. The millennial doesn’t want to answer my call, but will text instead. The senior citizen doesn’t have email and prefers to call and talk over the phone.

So, here is my question…how are you all managing all this? Seriously, with so many ways to communicate, what have you found to be the best way to navigate all these various platforms…voice mail, email, texts, letters, etc.

Along with that, I am desperately trying to move away from paper and integrate meeting notes, task lists and streamline things to be more productive. However, I am finding the apps I’m using don’t necessarily sync well between my computer, my tablet and my phone. I’ve tried Evernote and Wunderlist, but so far not wowed by either. So I would be interested to hear what you’re using and what’s working for you.

Long ago we were promised that technology would make our lives simpler. And in many ways it has. But it has also made our lives a whole lot more complicated. However, as hard as we try to hide from technology…it is there, staring us in the face. So what’s working for you? I’m curious. Give me your thoughts!

If You Want to Walk on Water…

6a00d8342086bb53ef0120a62425fe970c-320wiIt’s one of the greatest pictures of extreme discipleship in the Bible. Twelve men out on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of the night, being buffeted by the waves. In their distress they see what appears to them to be a ghost. Out of fear, they cry out and in that moment Jesus responds, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” We don’t know how the eleven responded to that voice, but Peter recognizes that God is present, so he blurts out, “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Knowing Peter’s impulsive ways, it’s surprising that he didn’t just plunge right into the water in pursuit of Jesus. Instead he shows restraint and asks Jesus for clarity, in order to discern what God was up to. And by doing so, he is invited to go on the adventure of his life. But in order to walk on water, Peter had to demonstrate faith, get out of the boat and make the commitment to move toward Jesus. However, when Peter’s shifts his focus from Jesus unto the storm, reality begins to sink in, he becomes fearful and plunges into the water.

There are many wonderful lessons in this story. In our lives, God is calling us to commit to him, to join him in life’s adventure, but we often choose the comfort and safety of the boat over joining Jesus on the waves. The choice to follow Jesus takes faith, commitment and determination. To go into uncharted waters with Jesus involves risk, and yet like Peter, we fail to recognize that Jesus is in our midst, so we quickly turn our attention to the storm around us and demonstrate just how little faith we have.

Faith takes trusting in the One who calms the storm and who walks on water!  He has promised to be there and to pick us up. By spending time with the original water walker, our faith muscle grows and we learn to trust him more for the details of our life.

Something More

One man’s life changed the course of history for billions of people across the globe. He is both revered and reviled, famed and feared and you know who he is without a single mention of his name. His name is Jesus! Do you know Him?

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